Early steps in direction of unity

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The “Appeal to All Christians” of the Lambeth Conference of 1920 is rightly known as a milestone in ecumenical history: it is a bold invitation to other churches by the “Bishops of the Holy Catholic Church in full communion with the Church of England” forget: the things that stand behind it and aim at the goal of a reunited Catholic Church ”. This would require them to incorporate the episcopate into their systems.

LAMBETH PALACE LIBRARYRandall Davidson, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1903 to 1928The appeal that paved the way for the great United Churches of the Indian subcontinent was significant for another reason too: it redefined Anglicanism as something that was neither Protestant nor English at the center. The form of religious life that had arisen in England from the 16th century onwards was fundamentally changed by the Lambeth Appeal: Anglicanism was eventually liberated from the Protestant religion of the English state and had mutated into a form of non-Roman Catholicism, the was detached from its Reformation roots.

In the entire 1920 calling there is nothing at all about the book of common prayer or the thirty-nine articles. Instead, the Anglicanism expressed in the appeal is a kind of inclusive Catholic Church without a Pope, trying to expand its networks in the name of greater unity or catholicity. This seemed particularly suitable for the world after World War I, which the appeal described as a "new age with new perspectives".

After all, the liberal pan-Protestantism, which many Anglicans had advocated in the pre-war years, had fallen into the sand through the connection of liberalism with German war aims. In response, Anglo-Catholicism had risen to the ascendant, as had sympathy for the Orthodox churches, some of which had been important allies. The Lambeth appeal was a call for some kind of League of Nations for the churches so that denominations, including Anglicanism, at least in its limited Protestant and English forms, would disappear in a new form of Catholicism.

Such an idealistic hope was the culmination of the ecumenical impulse of the so-called quadrangle of the Lambeth Conference of 1888. This had the criteria for reuniting with Anglicans on acceptance of the Bible, the Catholic Creeds, Baptism and the Eucharist and the "historical episcopate" , without mentioning Reformation formulas.

Anglicanism has therefore been reformulated in an ecclesiological rather than a doctrinal direction, very different from before.

Primarily, the Anglican identity had been established in the divisions of the 1530s towards Rome; and later it was increasingly brought into line with continental Protestantism by the reigns of Edward VI and Elizabeth.

Anti-Catholic Protestantism lasted a long time and was cemented in the 17th and 18th centuries with the so-called "Glorious Revolution" of 1688 and the Settlement Act of 1701, which meant that the first two Electors of Hanover and Supreme Governors of the Church of England, who ruled Great Britain from 1714 were German-speaking Lutherans.

How can a clearly Protestant church mutate into something defined by the overt catholicity of the Lambeth appeal? The decisive factor is the idea of ​​the via media, which from the 17th century increasingly became part of the Anglican self-definition. Originally used to portray the English Church as "filling the void against Puritanism and papacy, the Scilla and Charybdis of ancient piety," as Richard Montago put it in 1624, the idea a few centuries later of a re-conception of Anglicanism as something mutates altogether against Protestantism.

For example, the Irish lay theologian Alexander Knox declared in 1813 that the “nickname Protestant” had a “perverse influence” on our church: Anglicanism thus stood between the two extremes Protestantism and Papism.

The leaders of the Oxford Movement agreed: their desire to return to the early church was part of a more general desire to free the Church of England from Protestantism: a form of Anglicanism that was established on the early church and that was the central focus The tracts depicted left little room for the Times for the Reformation or Protestantism.

This became profoundly influential in the 20th century when the tractarians' heirs grew increasingly prominent in the Anglican community. As the Anglicans entered the ecumenical era, what William Van de Pol called a strong "Anglican aversion to the term" Protestant "quickly developed.

At the same time there was a revision of Anglicanism as something that was neither essentially English nor related to the constitutional regime of the English Church. This was particularly the result of the increasing influence of the American Episcopal Church.

After independence, it had gradually evolved into a church that was very different from the Church of England. It was forced to adopt a state-independent theory of the "primitiveness" of the episcopate and to emphasize the authority of all of God's people.

Later, in response to the disastrous aftermath of the American Civil War, William Reed Huntington, who designed the Lambeth Square, saw Anglicanism as synonymous with what he called "American Catholicity", defined as "simple creed"; a varied worship; a generous community ”.

It would be a fatal mistake for the Church of America to imitate the Church of England, which he saw as little more than "a flutter of surplus, a vision of village towers and cathedral towers". True Anglicanism, instead, was found primarily in continuity with the Primitive Church and did not require England or the Reformation.

At the same time, the First Vatican Council and the resulting divisions within Catholicism helped divert Anglicanism from its English. The pioneering work in reunification with Rome in the 1860s was shaken for generations by the declaration of papal infallibility.

This meant that many Hochkirchler, who shared many of the Anglo-Catholics' assumptions but had little desire to see Rome again, could make the most of the new situation. In the years after 1870 they exerted a strong influence on the Church of England and promoted an anti-Roman association of "Catholic" churches in which Protestant doctrine or English were of little importance.

For some Anglicans, most notably Christopher Wordsworth, Bishop of Lincoln, who wrote the official response to the Vatican Council, a new opportunity presented itself to work with disaffected Catholics – the Old Catholics – to help establish national Catholic churches that looked very similar his vision of the High Church for the Church of England. When the Old Catholic Churches began to develop their own structures, they resembled the model of an in-English, apolitical and non-established form of Anglicanism.

This bore some fruit and eventually resulted in full communion between the Church of England and the Old Catholic churches of the Union of Utrecht in the 1931 Bonn Agreement.

With the increasing awareness of the national churches of the Orthodox world that accompanied World War I, there was a new impetus for a form of ecumenism in which Anglicanism would lead the way as it increasingly became neither English nor Protestant.

This dynamic led to the production of the Lambeth Appeal by a group of bishops from all ecclesiastical parties and from around the world, including England and India within the British Empire and the United States from outside.

These were dominated by such unlikely bedfellows as Hensley Henson, the Liberal Bishop of Durham, and Frank Weston of Zanzibar, the outspoken leader of Anglo-Catholicism. They believed that through a new form of catholicity that would reshape Christianity of the future, there was potential for church reunification. In doing so, however, it would help to remove Anglicanism from its Reformation berths.

All in all, the 1920 Lambeth Appeal was the culmination of a long process in transforming Anglicanism as it was no longer the Protestant religion of the English state. The whole story is obviously far more complex than can be told here, but it is clear that Anglicanism was never a stable phenomenon, rather it was profoundly shaped by internal and external factors, particularly the first industrial war in the United States in the 1860s as well the rise of the Italian state, which shook the foundations of the papacy.

The 1920 Lambeth Appeal was a response to yet another industrial war and helped reshape Anglicanism for the rest of the 20th century: Anglican identity no longer required adherence to English or Protestant formulas. Instead, it was defined as minimally as possible in terms of scripture, creeds, the two dominant sacraments, and the “historical episcopate”. Lambeth 1920 marks the height of the "non-Protestantizing" and "non-English" of Anglicanism.

The Anglican community has since lived with the consequences of such a minimal definition. Only time will tell whether an inclusive version of non-Roman and non-Protestant and non-English Catholicism has a future in today's crisis. It is clear that many Anglicans have already given up on the idea and want something completely different.

Canon Mark Chapman is Associate Director of Ripon College, Cuddesdon and Professor of the History of Modern Theology at Oxford University.

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